Oh, Hanoi! Hanoi! How I totally fell in love with this city! Honestly, it was completely unexpected...so much so that Katherine and I were lamenting as we planned out trip about how we were wasting a night in Hanoi because of our Halong Bay boat cruise instead of using that extra night in Saigon or Hội An. What was wrong with us?! Why did all of our friends tell us there was nothing in Hanoi and it would be fine if we skipped it?! I'm here to tell you, don't fall for that...Hanoi is amazing. There is the beautiful mix of French Colonial and Vietnamese architecture, a gorgeous European style promenade around the centrally located Hoàn Kiếm Lake, the air is cooler and less humid, the people are even friendlier and more fun-loving than everywhere else in Vietnam (which I honestly didn't think was possible) and the food is some of the best I had in all of Vietnam.Oh, the food! This is where it gets tricky. Since Katherine and I did end up with only one night (16 hours including sleeping time to be exact) in Hanoi as soon as I started researching the food I knew we had a problem on our hands. Too much food and too little time! But Katherine was a trooper and let me drag her all over the city to have not one, but three dinners plus street food plus another spot for dessert. Yeah, I get a little crazy when it comes to experiencing an amazing place through food...but trust me the marathon foodie sprint was worth it! So let's get eating... First up is the not-to-be-missed Bun Cha! Bun Cha is my new favorite Vietnamese dish that has fatty grilled pork, white rice noodles, herbs, a delectable mixture of pickled garlic and chilis and a slightly sweet dipping sauce. I mean honestly, this pickled garlic and chili component alone had me distracting my fellow diners with my groans of enjoyment as I ate! This was our first dish of the evening...and we knew we had a few more spots to hit after this so we were really trying to restrain ourselves and not eat it all but we just couldn't. We slurped up every last bit smiling the entire time. The crispy spring rolls too...some of the best I had while in Vietnam.
Fish Tacos with Grapefruit Avocado Salsa
Herb Veal T-Bones with a Brandy Pan Sauce
As a reminder, I do receive the Omaha Steaks products for free in exchange for my blog posts, but I do genuinely enjoy their products. Particularly their uncooked, unseasoned products. You can see all of my SteakBytes blog posts here.
This year, however, my focus is a bit more on mental health than on food, physical health or fitness. Why? Because I feel like I inadvertently dabbled in this space a lot in 2014 as I went through my hardest year yet. And every time I dabbled, it felt really, really good. So good that I want to make this focus a more central part of my life and routine. In 2014 I crossed an item off my bucket list and went to Amansala's Bikini Boot Camp, I took a 6-week meditation class, I got back into therapy after 10+ years off, I read a couple of really empowering and fantastic books (The 5 Things We Cannot Change and Nonviolent Communication for those interested) and I just genuinely focused on improving myself in areas where I was feeling a bit shaky.
So to start off 2015 I'm heading to a 3 day yoga and meditation retreat to try to lock in all of that cumulative goodness that I acquired in 2014 and really start this year off right. I'm super excited to take a solo and leisurely drive up the coast, have a few days with no cell service, practice lots of yoga and meditation, eat all organic, vegetarian meals, have time to hike in beautiful Salt Point State Park and then cozy down each night with a good book and a warm bubble bath all while surrounded by the beauty that is coastal Northern California. I mean really, doesn't that sound divine?
But before I head out, I thought I'd leave you with a few links to my blog posts, below, summarizing what I focused on in January 2013, two years ago. That year the focus was on food, so I did the 3-week Whole Living Detox which was amazing. A lot of prepping and cooking each Sunday, but so worth it as you'll see in my four summary posts below which are chock full of all of the amazing recipes and photos. And the three habits that seemed to make such a difference for me back then, I'm proud to say are still 80% a part of my life 2 years later! When I return from my 3-day yoga and meditation retreat I'll be picking out a few of my favorites from that detox to include in my weekly menus throughout the rest of January to keep my healthy momentum going, so stay tuned.
Here are some photo highlights from this year's party, starting with the photo collage above. SavoryGirl's 2014 cookies! I always make 3-4 cookies for my party but typically 2 of them are old family traditional cookies. This year, however, I decided out with the old and in with the new and mad all new cookies! So I made Chocolate Pistachio Thumbprints with Chocolate Ganache which I thought were a delicious combination of salty sweet and while they look fancy they're actually quite easy to make. I also made Tahini Cookies rolled in black sesame seeds and demera sugar. I was pretty excited about the idea of these but they underwhelmed me in texture although others seemed to like them. Lastly I made Chai Spice Cookies which were divine...and they just happened to be gluten free too. These actually won the informal "tastiest cookie" award at the party so they're definitely a keeper. Super easy and really delicious!
Next up, Jacob and Chad's cookies...they had to go and match the host and bring 3 cookies! Love it. Jacob's Salted Chocolate Chip Cookies gave my Chai Spice Cookies a run for their money in the "tastiest cookie" contest. Don't worry...I'm working on getting the recipe! They also brought along BirdNests which you see in the middle there. These were quite yummy but really decadent so after a bite or two I was done! Their third cookie was a classic, buttery icebox cookie.
For my first month, I wrote two posts, which I've shared below. To be 100% candid, I absolutley love their Rapid Roast technology. Both the teriyaki pork tenderloin and the beef wellington goes straight from the freezer to the oven, stay in a vacuum sealed pack and cook up with making zero mess at all. Does it get any easier? And they both cooked perfectly according to the directions. I really enjoyed the Beef Wellington and would buy these again on my own...steak cooked perfectly and the mushroom pate and flaky crust felt decadent just as Beef Wellington should! The pork tenderloin cooked up well, but to be honest the teriyaki glaze was a bit too salty for my taste. And you all know how SavoryGirl feels about salt! So next time I make it I would likely pair it with a sweet glaze or dipping sauce to counterbalance the teriyaki marinade. Since my pineapple fried rice that i served along side it is also a pretty salty the overall meal was a bit much, despite the sweetness of the pineapple. So I'd also likely choose a different side dish to balance out the flavors...maybe a sweet potato pineapple bake or something along those lines.
So, here are my very first guest blog posts for Omaha Steaks' SteakBytes Blog...check them out and let me know what you think!
Rapid Roast Teriyaki Pork Tenderloin with Pineapple Fried Rice
Beef Wellington Bites with Red Wine Rosemary Dipping Sauce
I'll continue to share my monthly posts here on SavoryGirl, but if you want to keep an eye on them yourself my page on the Omaha Steaks SteakBytes Blog can be found here.
This soup recipe is from the cookbook, Soup; Superb Ways with a Classic Dish, and is super easy to make...well beyond mincing up two onions. Get out those swim googles so you don't cry like a baby and risk chopping your fingers. It does take about 90 minutes to cook though, so best to make it on a weekend and eat it as leftovers during the week. It holds up well for about a week and also freezes perfectly...I often make a double batch.
Tortilla Española...truly no tapas party is complete without this (above). It is a signature Spanish tapa that you will find at every single tapas bar throughout the country. While it doesn't sound particularly exciting (essentially a potato & onion omelet), trust me on this one...it's always a huge hit. This one always feels a bit scary for people to make, review the step by step photo recipe attached in the linked recipe...it's really pretty simple and straightforward if you take it one step at a time. And just be bold with the flip...own it and it will go perfectly! Traditionally it's served on top of a thin slice of bread but you can eat it on it's own as well (which I prefer).
Shrimp, Salmon and Egg Pintxo - this was my favorite of the entire spread! Not surprising since it's a pintxo which is the Basque version of tapas and I studied abroad in Basque country. So this was more reminiscent of the tapas that I ate while living abroad. Slightly more complex and often including amazing seafood. The viniagrette that you make for this pintxo is to die for and I've been putting it on everything else since (it makes a ton though so you could 1/2 it if you want to). KILLS me that I've lost my pictures of my favorite tapa...guess that means I need to make it again ASAP so I can share the photo!Pancetta Fig Crisps - ok, I took some liberties with the word "tapa". This technically isn't Spanish but it is an appetizer that I've made several times and is always a huge hit so I decided to include it. Delish as always.
So just to be transparent...how does this work? At the beginning of every month I'll get to choose 3 Omaha Steaks products which they'll ship to me for free. I then get to use them however I'd like...make up my own recipes, use them in existing recipes, entertain with them, etc... From there I write 2-3 blog posts about the experience and send it off to Omaha Steaks within 2-3 weeks to be published that next month. I'll send them photos too, but more often than not they'll use their own stock photography. Now the cool thing for me, as someone who always has a lot to say, is that they actually don't want these posts to be product reviews and focused on the product alone. So I'll still get to write in my true SavoryGirl voice about the recipe or party or experience like I always do...just mentioning which Omaha Steaks product I used at least once. Easy breezy way for me to still feel as though I'm being authentic. Especially since this is a brand I already know, have bought myself, and do enjoy...I would have never accepted the opportunity otherwise!
Stay tuned...I'll post links to my SteakBytes articles here of course and can't wait to hear what you think! In the meanwhile, to get you salivating check out my past post on how to cook a perfect steak here.